Thursday, September 27, 2018

Friday Fragments

In light of the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing, it seems like a good time to revisit this piece from 2012.  The short version is that gender studies is actually one of the most useful and practical things you can take.  The Senate, and the country, would be infinitely better off if senators were more aware of some basics.


IHE had a good piece yesterday on student success courses and initiatives at two-year colleges, but it left out two key factors limiting the spread of success courses: transferability and credit limits.

Many four-year colleges that teach their own freshman seminars don’t take community college freshman seminars in transfer.  That creates a moral dilemma for community colleges, where we want students to succeed, but we also don’t want to make them pay for credits that won’t go with them.

Recent moves to put hard caps on the number of credits in a degree make matters worse.  New Jersey just passed a 60 credit cap for associate degrees, which will require cutting classes out of existing programs.  That’s bad enough in itself, but it makes the introduction of -- or beefing up of -- success courses that much harder. When credits become a zero-sum game, the academic politics get much nastier.

In principle, this should be easy to fix, but it can’t be done from here.  

Here’s an empirical question for folks with access to more data than I do.  Which is more likely to increase retention and graduation: a 60 credit program without a success course, or a 63 credit program that includes a 3 credit success course?  If the data suggest that it’s the latter, then some pretty obvious reforms suggest themselves. Does anyone know?


Yet another “does anybody know?”  question. Like most places, we have software packages for training employees on FERPA compliance, Title IX compliance, and the like.  But we recently went looking for something similar on working with students with disabilities, and found almost nothing.

Is there anything good out there?  Roughly ten percent of our students have documented disabilities, and there may be more who don’t have documentation.  We’re committed to giving everybody a fair shot, and treating everybody with respect. And it’s a legal issue, as well as a moral one; the ADAA is very real.  

Surely there’s something good out there, yes?


This week I turned fifty..

Fifty kind of sneaks up on you.  There’s an old line that forty is the old age of youth, and fifty is the youth of old age.  I can see it. For years, I was accustomed to being the youngest person in the room at meetings.  That almost never happens anymore. Sometimes I’m even the oldest. That was a shock the first few times; now, not so much.  

The kids, of course, are convinced that I can be carbon-dated to the early Paleolithic.  That’s as it should be. They’re in touch with elements of popular culture that I can’t even describe, let alone form a coherent thought about.  A few months ago, tired of playing the same old stuff on Spotify all the time, I asked The Boy to recommend something. He recommended Kendrick Lamar.  I got about two minutes in before I had to stop. It felt like eavesdropping on somebody else’s conversation. Somehow, I don’t think “middle-aged suburban white guy” is Lamar’s target demographic, and that’s okay.  I trust TB in his judgment that Lamar’s work stands out in its genre; I just don’t get the genre. But I’m also old enough that it doesn’t bother me.

I had hoped that age would bring wisdom, preferably in the form of oracular aphorisms to be wielded as necessary.  Sadly, no. The closest I’ve come to anything like wisdom is not getting caught up in as much stupid crap. Instead of pronouncements about the nature of existence, the best I can claim is a more finely-tuned BS meter.  That also entails humility, as we all have our own BS, and it gets harder to deny as experience accumulates. Combine a finer-tuned BS meter with gradually increased self-awareness, and it’s hard to get quite as indignant about things.  There’s more of a sense of limits.

The opposite is true at work.  There, a sense of the finitude of time brings more urgency to the work, and a finer-tuned meter makes it easier to sort excuses from reasons.  As much, or more, of my career is behind me as is ahead of me. The marks I want to make need to be made sooner, rather than later. Whatever happens with titles or ranks, I want the places I’ve worked to be better -- fairer for students -- for my having worked there.  In a setting marked by long-term financial declines, that’s a taller order than it may seem. At least I have a much better sense now of what those marks should be. The soundtrack may be getting a bit stale, but the mission is clearer than it has ever been.